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Into the hell of social media “cleaners”



These videos proliferate on the Web. Violence, threats, sexual acts… However, they only have two or three minutes to decide whether to delete them or not.

We are in a building, in a city in Southeast Asia. In a room, sitting silently in front of their computer, headphones on, content moderators, nicknamed “social media cleaners”, remove Internet publications deemed inappropriate.

Among them, a Japanese man, employed by a subcontractor of a digital giant which operates a video sharing site, agreed to answer our questions, on condition of disclosing neither his name nor his age:

“I am forbidden from speaking in detail about the content of my work.”

He works shifts with teams organized by language for a monthly salary of around 200,000 yen (1,200 euros). Subject to strict confidentiality, he is not allowed to bring his smartphone into the room, or even a simple pen.

When he arrives at his station, he turns on his two screens. On one of them, a video is playing at fast speed. The other displays the numerous moderation rules to be applied, a document that seems to be a thousand pages long. When it spots prohibited content, it classifies the video into a category, for example “violence”, “porn”, “harassment” Or “hate”. And look for the rule it is breaking and copy it into the comments field. “The main thing is to find it as quickly as possible,” he explains.

When he finishes checking one video, the next one appears. In addition to content reported by users, “there are probably posts automatically detected by artificial intelligence (AI), but I don’t know how they are chosen”.

Cat and mouse game

If a video shows someone being beaten to blood or contains threats like “I’m going to kill him”, he deletes it immediately. If in doubt, he sends the video to a specialized service. Of the approximately 80 videos he watches per day, he deletes about three. There are also around ten that he finds difficult to judge. He doesn’t know how many there are

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